The Ministry re-invents teaching granny to suck eggs
Because she loves me so much, my beloved has been chained to her desk*, grappling with some more Ministry paperwork. You can tell she enjoys this pastime, seeing as it fills her days week after week. This time, she's been double checking something called our 'soil protection review', making sure it's right up to speed and inspection proof.
[*I'm joshing about the restraints, but am quite prepared to discuss the matter.]
For those of you unacquainted, this document lists all of the ways we aren't going to damage or degrade our soil. Never mind that my tribe have more or less managed to prevent the old place from washing out to sea for a century and a half, the nature of the information required suggests we are barely fit to lean on the field gate, let alone take management decisions about farming matters.
One of the preoccupations of this document is where we might have water courses or drains or ditches etc, and ensuring we don't spread any poop or fertiliser within 10 metres of them, or within 50 metres of any spring or borehole. As I sit here tapping away, there's been a bit of rain hereabouts, and I don't think there's a spot anywhere on the place that's 10 metres away from running water right now. But then, curiously enough, I'm not about to spread any fertiliser am I?
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One enclosure, of several hundred acres, is nothing but springs, mires and watercourses. I've never spread anything on it, seeing as it can't realistically be accessed by machine. But it still has to be marked out carefully, in case I change my farming practices.
And since you ask, we tend to spread the cow poop accumulated during the winter housing, on the hay fields in the spring – as opposed to 'in the river, in mid-winter' I suppose. This radical technique ensures a crop of summer grass in said hay fields, to make ready for the next winter, in a manner I suppose you could call 'sustainable'. Goodness, whatever will us modern go-ahead farmers think of next!
To put the stupid paper exercise in some kind of perspective, I note it comes from an office of the self-same State which, to take one example, is currently planning to hack an astonishingly large gash through the English countryside, to make a railway allowing travellers to get from Manchester to London before their coffee gets cold. A different department of the same Government also seems to have agreed to a French company, using Chinese money, building a nuclear power plant in Somerset, which will produce great mounds of radioactive waste, dangerous for centuries – and charge us double for the resulting electricity for good measure. The leftovers from this plant will be toxic to generations of our successors – won't they be pleased with us? – and, I suggest, represents a rather bigger error than where I spread my cow poop.
You'll forgive me if I consider my little wifey's time might be better spent.
In fact, my own interest in soil, or 'dirt' as our Mid-Western cousins would have it, goes rather further than the wellbeing of the ground within the farm boundaries. You see I had a moment of clarity backalong, during a difficult spell of… well, we'll call it 'charitable diplomacy'. During this time, I was exposed to a raft of very basic expressions of greed and desire, which just about balanced our need to live alongside each other.
Reading a spot of history at the same time – including the Icelandic Sagas, where the exact same issues raise their heads – I realised that almost all of man's woes and conflicts are based on our desires over 'dirt'. From the very basic inter-tribal transhumance disputes over the best pasture for the grazing flocks and herds, to the settled occupation of the most fertile valley bottoms and best soils on which to grow our grain. You can scale it up, and attach more obscure outputs and labels if you like. It might be the oil which lies under it, or the water running across it, or the sacred building someone's forebears built upon it. But when you scratch away at just about any dispute, dirt lies at the heart of the matter.
Our need for it is absolute, and the whole of human civilisation rests upon it. Our history is built equally upon its bounty, and our squabbles over it.
I feel and see the dirt under my toes in a rather more fundamental way than our 'soil protection review'.